|Sophie on Romanticism (pp. 342-359)
Sophie's World (Gaarder)
The Romantic Era began toward the end of the eighteenth century and lasted until the middle of the nineteenth century. It started in Germany as a reaction to the Enlightenment's unequivocal emphasis on reason. The new catchwords were 'feeling', 'imagination', and 'yearning'.
Many of the Romantics saw themselves as the German philosopher Kant's successors. Kant had established that there was a limit to what we can know about 'things in themselves': we can only know the world through sense impressions, but those impressions are shaped by the attributes of our minds. So, our minds limit our understanding of reality. Even so, through exercise of the imagination we are brought closer to an experience of 'the thing in itself'.
The Romantics who followed Kant emphasized the importance of the individual's contribution to knowledge. They glorified the artist's unique interpretation of life. By abandoning ourselves to the aesthetic experience of an art work of genius, we push beyond the limited realm of logic and move closer to 'the inexpressible'. In his transports of artistic rapture, the poet, musician or painter could sense the dissolving boundary between dream and reality.
The yearning for the distant and unattainable was characteristic of the Romantics. They longed for bygone eras such as the Middle Ages, and they longed for distant cultures like the Orient with its mysticism. They were drawn to night, to twilight, to old ruins and the supernatural.
The Romantics believed that all of nature, both the human soul and physical reality, is the expression of one Absolute or World Spirit. In this sense we can see the influence of neo-Platonic thought on their understanding of the universe. However, Nature was also thought of as an organism, a living being constantly developing its own innate potentialities. Aristotle had said much the same thing: substance strives to achieve a potential form, and the universe itself is evolving towards a final form.
Another German philosopher, Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803), developed this dynamic notion of the universe's substance by asserting that history itself is characterized by evolution and design. He believed that history was divided into particular epochs and each has its own leading ideas and intrinsic values. He also believed that each nation has its own character or 'soul' determined by its unique folk culture, language and history. A nation's people are understood as one collective organism unfolding its own innate potentiality. Herder encouraged the collection of folk songs and folk tales, calling them Voices of the People. The Brothers Grimm made a famous collection of old German fairy tales: "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", "Rumpelstiltskin". "Hansel and Gretel", and "The Frog Prince", among many others. The fairy tale genre was passionately cultivated by the Romantics. One of the German masters of the genre was E.T.A. Hoffman.Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) Sophie's World (Gaarder), pp. 322-341 Kant
Rescuing the Scientific Method by Affirming the Primacy of our
Kant was another great synthesizer in the history of philosophy who melded the rationalism of Descartes with the empiricism of Locke:
Kant believed that both sensation and reason contribute to our conception of the world:
However, Kant also believed that the apparatus of reason prevents us from knowing the world in itself; we can only know how the world appears to us.
Kant argued that it was impossible to prove the existence of God either through reason (Descartes) or experience (Aristotle). However, he insisted that the existence of a soul, of God, and of human free will was a moral necessity. Therefore, for these practical reasons we must possess an innate ability to distinguish right from wrong in the same way that we perceive phenomena as linked in a causal sequence. For Kant moral sense precedes experience-- it applies to all people at all times.
Kant also believed that only through moral action do we act freely. The conditions of the environment and the specificity of the apparatus (physical and mental) with which we are born determine our behavior. Only by engaging in difficult moral decisions can we achieve freedom and actually participate in the world as it is beyond our sensory perception.